If a dog is a man’s best friend, then a horse is a woman’s best friend — at least for Amber Alsterlund.
The 25-year-old Viola resident takes her American quarter horse, Six, to rodeos all over the Northwest for competitive barrel racing, in which a horse and rider complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels as fast as possible.
But Alsterlund’s love for her companion extends far beyond the riding arena.
“I wouldn’t trade her for anything,” said Alsterlund, who named her riding partner after the famous racehorse Streakin Six, also an American quarter horse. “I know every time I step foot on her, she’s going to take care of me.”
When the two are together, Alsterlund said, there is no place she would rather be, noting Six’s fun personality and her heart.
“I don’t think I will ever trust something as much as I trust her in the arena, honestly,” Alsterlund said.
She bought 7-year-old Six, a brown horse with a white streak down the center of her face, in Oklahoma when the animal was just shy of her fourth birthday.
While Alsterlund said she saw photos and videos of the horse, she had never seen her in person or rode the animal before the purchase.
“I just liked the way she looked and liked her potential,” Alsterlund said. “It was a gamble, but it worked out.”
She said Six is one of the sweetest horses someone could be around, but the animal can be stubborn at times.
Alsterlund said she has been around horses and raced in rodeos all her life.
“I could ride before I could walk,” she said.
She was introduced to the rodeo world by her father.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere,” Alsterlund said. “Everybody there — they love what they do and they love to compete and they love their livestock.”
Alsterlund finished sixth out of 32 women’s finalists from across the U.S. and Canada who competed in October in the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. She represented the Potawatomi Nation for the second straight year at the competition. Alsterlund said she is trying to return to the finals again this year.
“I rely on (Six) to go out and do her job and know her job, but she relies on me to help her,” Alsterlund said. “You really have to be into your horse and your horse has to kind of know exactly what you’re expecting.”
Although she primarily competes in barrel racing, Alsterlund said she is also involved in standard horse racing. While Six is her barrel racing horse, she does not use the powerful animal for horse racing.
Alsterlund took first place in horse racing last year at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon.
She said horse racing is the most exhilarating experience she has ever had.
“It’s insane,” she said. “Your adrenaline’s just pumping. I mean, there’s nothing like it and you get off and you’re just shaking because you’re just so excited. And it’s an incredible feeling because you have so much power underneath of you. You can feel every stride, every turn — everything. It’s incredible.”
She said she also bought her Women’s Professional Rodeo Association permit to participate in the Columbia River Circuit of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association this year.
Alsterlund said she rides Six at least four nights a week, and more frequently during the summer.
While she rides for practice, she also simply loves doing it. Alsterlund said she and Six come together as if they are one being.
“It’s relaxing,” she said. “I mean, there’s such a sense of freedom.”
When not riding, Alsterlund makes the roughly one-hour commute from Viola to Rustebakke Veterinary Service in Clarkston, where she works as a small animal veterinarian technician. Alsterlund said she is essentially a nurse for animals and does everything from taking animals’ temperature, pulse and medical history to helping the veterinarian perform procedures, like spaying and neutering, and surgeries, such as leg amputations.
“I enjoy animals,” she said. “It’s always nice when you have something come in and you’re able to help it and then you see it progress.”
Despite enjoying the job, she doesn’t want it to become career — she just wants to run barrels, rope and live a ranch lifestyle.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than come ride a horse,” Alsterlund said, “even in 20-degree weather.”